Friday, 3 February 2012

The Scottish Dirk. By Request.

A chap who follows this blog emailed me with several questions, one of which was: Q If a Scot was a trapper/hunter/woodsman in the New World, would he still carry a dirk?
My answere to this is that I cannot be sure, because I have no written documentation, but if I were a Scot and I was used to carrying a dirk all the time, I would continue to carry it wherever I went.
Many of you may remember my mentioning a good friend of mine, Dr Rob Gilbert of Stirlingshire Scotland. Sadly Robert died last year, but I remember him telling me that many a local in his community were up in arms at the law that banned the wearing of the dirk. This is much the same as the law here in NSW that bans the carrying of clasp knives in public. I have carried such a tool since I was about 8 years of age, and now at 63 they tell me I can no longer carry one in my pocket! Anyway Tom, here are a couple of images of original dirks to wet your appetite. These are both late 17th century to early 18th century style.
Copies of these are made for the Living Historian and the Historical Reenactor, but they are often left blunt for the reenactors.

Just a quick comment: You do not have to be a Scot to carry a dirk, you just have to think of a good reason as to how you came by it.


elmo iscariot said...

If a Scot was a trapper/hunter/woodsman in the New World, would he still carry a dirk?

I think it's safe to infer that many Scots did, or at least that non-Scots in America believed they did.

When the US started experimenting with weapon control laws in the late 19th century, the first targets were invariably the weapons that mainstream Anglo-Saxon Americans associated with the lower classes and with ethnic minorities.

Since relatively well-off people preferred to carry handguns, almost all these early laws mainly targeted blades, and these laws remain on the books today in all but one state. As a knife enthusiast, I've read very many state knife laws to know what I could safely carry while travelling: the two most common phrases used to describe banned blades are "bowie knife" and "dirk or dagger." Dirk isn't a commonly known word here (so it's definitely not a generic term), but even so, well more than half of knife laws refer to a "dirk or dagger," without defining the term.

Obviously this doesn't prove that 18th century American Scots carried dirks. But it suggests to me that it's likely. At least enough Scots seem to have hung on to their traditional blades to set them in the panicked public imagination a century later.

elmo iscariot said...

Ah, and thanks for the outstanding pictures. I saw them in my Google Reader's preview window, and couldn't wait to see them. :)

Jenny said...

If I recall correctly, Highland Scots were pretty touchy about their dirks - to the point of swearing on them. I don't see a (first generation, born and raised highland) Scot giving up his dirk voluntarily.

Culloden, The Swords and the Sorrows has lots of examples of extant originals you and your guest may enjoy. :)

All that said, the romance of the highlands looks to be a mostly 19th c. phenomenon, and with some notable exceptions [UK military units, Flora McDonald] weren't particularly common in America, much less on the wooded frontier.

Lots and lots of (Protestant/Lowland descended) Ulster Scots, but the highlander stalking the wilds of America in his wool bonnet wasn't nearly so much a reality as 1990's romance and reenactments would have it.

Most highland/Catholic settlement was up in modern day Canada (Cape Breton), and a little down in coastal North Carolina. Most in the American colonies were Loyalist when the war came, and IIRC most left - or were forced out - after the war was successful.

So if the persona wanted is "raggedy Scotsman wandering the wooded hills and yearning for FREEDOM" - he's probably a lowland Presbyterian, has a nice rifle and a nice knife.. but no dirk. If he's got a dirk, he's prolly came over with King's service, and is fighting with a red coat on his back.

(That said, I've heard of one highlands settlement in Central or Western NC where highland Gaelic held on into the 19th c, but can't find the source and I'm a little dubious about that. Still, could be. It's a big country)

Le Loup said...

Good feedback, thank you.

Ramana Rajgopaul said...

I have one LL. Bought it in Glasgow way back in 1987 and since it was before the present madness of security checks for checked in baggage, I just had to declare it as a curio for Indian customs and pay a small duty on it. I hope that I don't ever have to use it.

Great photographs.

Le Loup said...

Ramana, I must admit that I am a bit of a knife nut. or I would be if I could afford it. I would love to own a dirk, even though I have no use for one.
A nice tool to keep close-by.
Regards, Keith.